—By SMB Group’s Contributing Analyst, Kelly Teal, and Co-founder, Laurie McCabe
It’s not every day that a small business starts as the result of unfortunate — yet ultimately fortuitous — circumstances. But that’s exactly what happened to Alexandra Clark, founder of Michigan’s Bon Bon Bon.
Clark, a longtime chocolate lover, was leaving a chocolate convention when she was involved in a taxi accident. Long story short, she emerged from the fray with a $32,000 settlement. The money was enough for Clark to start her dream company, Bon Bon Bon. In 2014, she set up shop in the back of a Coney Island diner in Hamtramck, a two-square-mile city surrounded by Detroit.
Bon Bon Bon makes and packages unique chocolates, all by hand. Standard flavors include the Better Butter Crunch, featuring potato chips made in Detroit. There’s also the Mustachio, with wine-infused caramel, pistachio, and a dark chocolate shell topped with a dark chocolate mustache. Bon Bon Bon produces seasonal and one-off concoctions, too.
Champagne As Currency
At first, Bon Bon Bon did not sell to retail buyers. Rather, the then-tiny company — six friends of Clark’s taking home pay in the form of Bon Bon Bon products and champagne — made chocolates for hotel clients. But in a city as small as Hamtramck, people knew what was going on in the back of that Coney Island. When Saturdays (the only day Bon Bon Bon was open then) came around, the Bon Bon Bon crew hung a sign on the door inviting passersby to trade champagne for chocolates. That proved a very popular invitation and when Bon Bon Bon opened its retail space, in Hamtramck, word about the company had spread to the point that Bon Bon Bon covered a year’s worth of rent with its first weekend’s sales.
Indeed, Bon Bon Bon kept to a brick-and-mortar approach until 2019. By then it had expanded to three retail locations in Michigan — Hamtramck, mid-town Detroit, and downtown Detroit — mostly to accommodate holiday demand. The company had launched shipping operations as well, although on more of an informal, case-by-case basis. That’s when leaders decided the confectioner should have some kind of internet presence.
“We were like, ‘Oh, this is where the world is moving,’ right? We should maybe have a website, right?” says Alessandra Rodriguez, Bon Bon Bon’s marketing head.
So, the confectioner signed up with a major ecommerce brand for point-of-sale capabilities and hired a third party to create a custom website. Internet purchases remained low, only requiring Bon Bon Bon to fulfill, on a heavy day, five orders, so operations flowed smoothly.
That soon changed.
“Cue the pandemic,” Rodriguez says.
Government-mandated lockdowns forced Bon Bon Bon to close its retail sites. Overnight, the company had to become an ecommerce expert.
“[O]ur way of doing business just completely flipped on its head,” Rodriguez says.
That’s also when Bon Bon Bon discovered the intricacies and perils of its ecommerce setup. The company quickly realized that its internet point-of-sale vendor offered limited, and slow, support. That kept Bon Bon Bon from being able to perform basic functions quickly, such as locating a lost shipment or updating inventory so customers knew in real-time what they could order and expect to receive. On top of that, the website Bon Bon Bon had commissioned was so tailor-made, only the third-party partner that built it could handle edits or updates, and rarely on the short deadlines Bon Bon Bon required.
Changing the Internet Game for the Better
Bon Bon Bon’s leaders knew they had to find a different and better solution for both the ecommerce and website problems. After talking with trusted peers and researching vendor reputations, they switched from their existing point-of-sale and website providers to BigCommerce in the fall of 2021. Interestingly, Bon Bon Bon’s website already was built on BigCommerce, but the third party had over-customized the site, to the point that Bon Bon Bon staff could not make even simple changes and had to start fresh when making the move.
Both of Bon Bon Bon’s ecommerce issues disappeared after it fully migrated to BigCommerce.
“We realized that what we really needed was not so much the point-of-sale, but more so the actual assistance in getting a website going and being able to fulfill properly,” Rodriguez says. “And BigCommerce just has such a great customer service component to the platform that it made more sense for us to work with [them].”
To be sure, using BigCommerce both for ecommerce and a new website changed the internet game for Bon Bon Bon. Now, Rodriguez handles any and all site edits — alerting customers to pop-up shops or new store hours, for instance — as soon as she needs to do so. And she and other Bon Bon Bon employees are able to turn to BigCommerce for help around the clock, too, whether via chat or over the phone.
“I mean, you have 24/7 assistance available to you via chat, which is, quite frankly, my absolute favorite feature of Big Commerce — just being able to actually talk to a human about any potential issue that comes up,” Rodriguez says.
Standard tasks including fulfillment no longer bring about headaches, either. In fact, thanks in part to BigCommerce’s guidance, Bon Bon Bon now runs its shipping operations as a separate division, giving it, in essence, four arms — three retail sites (reopened since the height of the pandemic) and the internet.
And Bon Bon Bon is able to look to BigCommerce for expertise when it comes to using new plugins with the potential to boost business. For example, Bon Bon Bon now benefits from having implemented both ShipStation and GiftUp. The former connects to users’ BigCommerce stores and integrates with a variety of shopping carts, marketplaces, carriers, and more. That has expanded Bon Bon Bon’s footprint. The latter lets Bon Bon Bon sell gift cards in-store, not just online. This lends the company more exposure.
Most of all, though, BigCommerce has cemented itself as a trusted partner to Bon Bon Bon.
“The biggest thing that BigCommerce has been able to do is provide the support to our team to be able to make changes on a moment’s notice, and also just have complete ownership and control over our shop and how we want it to look,” says Rodriguez. Most of all, she adds, “I can really provide a level of customer service to our customers that we weren’t able to provide previously.”
Bon Bon Bon’s Thoughts for Peers
In terms of advice for fellow small businesses and entrepreneurs, here’s what Rodriguez has to say: “Knowing how your website functions for sure is super, super critical. And not just knowing how it functions, but knowing how to change things and knowing the things that you want to include on your website, before actually deciding on anything. Because I know that we’ve run into past issues where we didn’t map that out completely and then we were too far gone, right? So knowing what features are important to you before embarking on something I think is super, super important and would be probably a big thing to just think of before venturing out into the ecommerce world.”
Thanks to BigCommerce, Bon Bon Bon has the resources it needs to keep expanding. The chocolatier now employs 40 people. And it wants to increase its output, from production to shipping, and sell directly in states beyond Michigan — “to just get more chocolate into the world,” as Rodriguez puts it.
Small and medium businesses (SMBs) can’t afford — time or money-wise — to test drive an ecommerce partner. They need a vendor from the beginning that delivers anytime, anywhere, human-led support, and that offers tools that help their businesses grow. Of course, all of this needs to come at a fair price so SMBs don’t buckle if expenses temporarily outweigh revenue. Most of all, however, SMBs like Bon Bon Bon need providers they can count on. Even though the world leans heavily on virtual interactions, which have their place, SMB Group sees businesses thrive most when they get person-to-person communication and insight from their vendors. Bon Bon Bon’s experience underscores this reality. The confectioner’s experience further underscores the importance of strategizing an internet presence. Launching a website is not necessarily an easy task, as Bon Bon Bon can attest, but it can be. Choosing the right provider lessens the burden significantly and frees SMB leaders to continue focusing on growth.
© SMB Group, 2022
This post was sponsored by BigCommerce.